The RSPB should maintain its neutrality on shooting

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The RSPB has long claimed to be neutral on the issue of shooting, but in recent years that ‘neutrality’ has looked increasingly like opposition. If the Society can still, just about, claim that it is neutral on the moral issue of whether someone should be able to shoot live quarry it has come out against nearly every management practice which allows people to do just that.

So whilst it, apparently, does not mind if I shoot a grouse it does object to most of the practices that allow grouse moors to be managed to produce a surplus of grouse that I can shoot. And whilst it does not object to me shooting a pheasant or a partridge, it does have a problem with pheasants and partridges being reared and released so that I can shoot them. Meanwhile, whilst it has not yet come out publicly against the shooting of a sustainable harvest of migratory species such as geese, ducks and waders which can be legally hunted, it happily stands by whilst its vice-President Chris Packham calls for bans on the hunting of such species. Mr Packham, by the way, also believes that anyone who owns a gun is a “psychopath”.

At its AGM last week RSPB Chairman Kevin Cox announced a review of its policy on ‘game bird shooting and associated land management’ with specific reference to management practices associated with grouse shooting, and to the releasing of pheasants and partridges. These results of these reviews will apparently be revealed at its next AGM, but I think we can be fairly confident that the conclusions have already been written.

The really disingenuous part of Mr Cox’s announcement was not, however, the suggestion that the RSPB was entering this process with an open mind, but the claim that it was carrying out the review as a result of ‘member concern’. The Society has 1.1 million members who it is fair to assume make up a fairly representative portion of middle England (and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). You can search public opinion as hard as you like in any cohort and you will not find anything but a tiny proportion who say they are ‘concerned’ about shooting. In fact it is quite hard to find anyone who gives shooting any thought at all other than the million or so who take part in it.

The reality, as I am sure the RSPB knows, is that it reacting not to ‘members’ concerns’ but to internal activism. The impact of a few hundred activists within its membership is driving the RSPB’s anti-shooting agenda using targeted email and social media campaigns. This should matter not only to those who shoot, but also to anyone who cares about the RSPB, not least because it suggests very warped priorities. The RSPB cannot apparently see how odd its increasing obsession with shooting looks in the context of real public concerns about climate change and the environment.

That other great charitable institution the RSPCA has learned a very hard lesson about the dangers of entryist activism. Its council was long ago taken over by animal rights activists and its ensuing politicised campaigning agenda has had a disastrous impact on its reputation. The RSPB would be well advised to consider the way forward very carefully if it does not want to suffer the same fate.

Tim Bonner is the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance. Follow their work: @CAUpdates

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